Thursday, January 20, 2005

Senate Panel Delays Vote on Gonzales

The New York Times
January 20, 2005
Senate Panel Delays Vote on Gonzales

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 - The Senate Judiciary Committee postponed a vote on Alberto R. Gonzales's nomination for attorney general on Wednesday after Democrats accused Mr. Gonzales of evading their questions about the Bush administration's policies on the treatment of prisoners captured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, who sought the delay, said at a committee meeting that Mr. Gonzales's written responses to questions about the administration's policies on torture had been "arrogant" and evasive. He pressed for Mr. Gonzales to produce notes and records that might shed light on the positions he had taken as White House counsel, in particular, a 2002 memo on the limits of torture.

Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, who is chairman of the committee, said that at first glance he was satisfied with Mr. Gonzales's answers, calling them "an expansive response on relatively short notice." But Mr. Specter agreed to put off the vote for a week and to review the voluminous material to determine whether fuller answers were needed. He said afterward that he did not think Mr. Gonzales's ultimate confirmation was in any jeopardy.

Delaying a vote on a nominee to give senators time to explore all issues "is really the tradition of the committee when there are controversial matters," Mr. Specter said, referring to a longstanding committee rule that allowed the Democrats to hold over the nominee for a week. The judiciary committee is now likely to vote on Mr. Gonzales on Jan. 26.

With Mr. Kennedy and several Democrats rethinking their positions on Mr. Gonzales's nomination, Mr. Specter acknowledged that the nominee could face a number of no votes on the committee before the full Senate took up his nomination. He said he wanted to see Mr. Gonzales avoid a party-line vote in order to strengthen his position as attorney general.

Four years ago, Attorney General John Ashcroft faced an even more bruising confirmation fight.

After the Judiciary Committee endorsed Mr. Ashcroft's nomination on a 10-to-8 party-line vote in January 2001, the full Senate voted 58 to 42 to approve him, the largest number of votes against a nominee for attorney general in 75 years. The tough fight set the tone for four years of what were often tense relations between Mr. Ashcroft's Justice Department and Congress.

In written responses given to the committee on Tuesday, Mr. Gonzales laid out the administration's positions on the treatment of prisoners in the campaign against terrorism. But on a number of important issues, he said he could not remember key details or declined to provide them in part because they involved classified information or confidential advice.

Mr. Kennedy expressed his frustration at Wednesday's committee meeting and read one line repeatedly from Mr. Gonzales's written responses, in which the nominee said "I have not conducted a search" for notes and other documents that might explain the origins of a 2002 legal opinion given to Mr. Gonzales by the Justice Department. The memo, which laid out a very narrow definition of torture, has since been disavowed by the Bush administration.